Issues To Consider Before Crossbreeding

NORTHERN IRELAND, UK - Does crossbreeding have a role within the Northern Ireland dairy sector? This question is currently being addressed in a series of studies being undertaken by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) Hillsborough, with the research funded jointly by AgriSearch and DARD.
calendar icon 16 June 2011
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Results presented in Table 1 are from a study comparing the performance of spring calving Jersey x Holstein crossbred cows and pure Holstein cows when offered approximately 1.0 t concentrate per year.

While the Holstein cows produced approximately 600 litres more milk per lactation than the Jersey crossbred cows, the crossbred cows produced milk with a significantly higher fat and protein content. The overall effect was that milk solids yield (kg of fat plus protein) did not differ between the two breeds, with yields of 467 and 471 kg for the Holstein and crossbred cows, respectively. At a milk price of 25 pence per litre, the value of milk produced was £1617 and £1560 for the Holstein and crossbred cows respectively.

However, perhaps the most striking observation with the crossbred cows in this study was their significantly higher level of fertility. The crossbred cows exhibited signs of heat much earlier than the Holstein cows, had higher conception rates to both first and second service, while a greater proportion of cows were in calf after the first 12 weeks of the breeding season.

Table 1: Production and fertility performance of Holstein and Jersey x Holstein crossbred cows in a three year study

Production Holstein Jersey x Holstein
Lactation milk yield (l) 6282 5627
Fat % 4.2 4.78
Protein % 3.3 3.59
Lactation fat + protein yield (kg) 467 471
Value of milk produced 1617 1560
Average live weight 515 470
Fertility Holstein Jersey x Holstein crossbreds
Days to 1st observed heat 50 42
Conception to 1st AI (%) 35 58
Conception to 1st and 2nd AI (%) 52 81
Pregnancy rate at 12 weeks (%) 73 89

Crossbreeding is not for everyone, and on many farms crossbreeding will not overcome problems of poor management. Nevertheless, a well planned and well managed crossbreeding programme can result in robust cows with fewer calving difficulties, fewer health problems, higher levels of fertility, and ultimately improved longevity. While crossbreeding may have a detrimental impact on some economic aspects such as the value of male calves and cull cows, the positive financial impact associated with improvements in functional traits has the potential to improve overall economic performance of the dairy business.

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